BISHOP JOSEPH Danlami Bagobiri of Kafancha is a man of solid character and of a robust reputation for standing up for his beliefs – such as is found in all Catholic Bishops. Furthermore, Bishop Bagobiri is known for a dogged fight on the side of the oppressed. Among his famed battles are his sustained opposition to the government and the policies of Mallam Nasir El Rufai of Kaduna State, and resistance tothat government’s second coming.

He has maintained an equally resolute agitation against Boko Haram and Fulani Herdsmen. Last year, the Bishop told the United Nations in New York that “Boko Haram and the Fulani Herdsmen are terrorist organizations, both of which self-describe as Muslim, and kill, maim, destroy properties through bombings, conduct guerrilla attacks and practise all forms of discrimination and marginalization against non-Muslims and those Muslims who oppose them”. The Bishop theorises that together with ISIS, Boko Haram and Fulani Herdsmen constitute the three deadliest terror groups in the world today.

It is not difficult to understand why and how Bishop Bagobiri became an avowed opponent of Governor El Rufai, Boko Haram and Fulani Herdsmen. His Diocese of Kafanchan, located in what is commonly referred to as Southern Zaria in  Kaduna State, is situated in the eye of a religious storm between Christians and Muslims as well as a geo-political battle between the Fulani and the more than sixty other tribes. Christians in this area are some of the most persecuted anywhere in Nigeria. Bishop Bagobiri himself was born in Fadan Kagoma area of the Diocese; same place as Sir Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa,the latefirst Governor of Kaduna State from Southern Zaria, and first Christian Governor of Kaduna State.

Bishop Bagobiri was ordained a priest in 1983 for the Archdiocese of Kaduna. Twelve years after his priestly ordination, he was appointed the pioneer Bishop of Kafanchan Diocese created from territories removed from the Archdiocese of Jos and the Archdiocese of Kaduna.  Considering his age and his years as bishop, Bishop Bagobiri is not a young Bishop. He is sixty years old, thirty four years a priest, and twenty two years a Bishop.

It is not quite clear, how and why Bishop Bagobiri persuaded himself to dabble in the matter of Ahiara Diocese at this time, and in the manner that he has. As how? Bishop Bagobiri was at St. John’s Church, FadanAttakar attending the Silver Jubilee of the priestly ordination of Fr. Mathias Anyip,we were told, when he released a statement on the Ahiara matter. In the signed statement, Bishop Bagobiri calls on the CBCN to revisit the matter, to deal respectfully with the faithful of Ahiara, and to submit a fresh conclusion to Rome.

Very well said My Lord, but why bring such to the public domain? The matter of Ahiara has given the Church in Nigeria a black eye which we trust, is being treated with the utmost maturity and competence by the CBCN. We would hate that the wound be reopened particularly in a fashion which suggests a division in the ranks of our Bishops.

The Punch of December 4, 2017 reported Bishop Bagobiri’s public statements on Ahiara. In doing so, the newspaper opined that “cracks are beginning to emerge among the ranks of the Nigerian Bishops Council against the resilient Ahiara Mbaise Catholic Diocese”. If you examine these words, you will come to the reasonable conclusion that the newspaper ascribes to Ahiara Mbaise Catholic Diocese the positive characteristics of strength and unity – resilient; and to the Bishops Conference, inability to sustain its unity on the issue – cracks among the ranks. It is necessary to not let such impression stand uncontested.

Bishop Bagobiri’s statements and the conclusion of those who seemingly take delight in the imaginary ‘cracks’ being propagated by the likes of The Punch should not stand without scrutiny. For a start, there are 74 living Catholic Bishops of Nigerian nationality, active and retired. To expect all seventy four to have the same opinion on every matter is to expect the impossible. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, CBCN, is not an assemblage of men who have the same mind on every issue. It is a conference not because all its members always agree, but because they always come to agreement. It is expected that, matters are discussed, divergent views expressed, varied positions canvased; a decision is reached and a common position agreed upon. Once this has been done, it becomes the official position of the conference. Each and every member of the conference will then defend such as if it were their personal position.

There is no doubt that the Ahiara matter must have gone through such process long before the intervention of the Holy Father in June. All anyone can do at this time is hope joyfully for the next pronouncements from Rome. Any other initiative at this point amounts to campaigning for support in a matter that is no longer on the table. The matter is in Rome, the Holy Father has requested the protesting priests to write letters of apology, pledging allegiance to the Holy Father and stating acceptance of whom the Pope has appointed a Bishop to Ahiara. The priests have complied. What then is there to reconsider? Were the CBCN to accept Bishop Bagobiri’s approach, will Ahiara priests withdraw their letters to Rome?

CBCN has responded to Bishop Bagobiri demanding a withdrawal of his earlier statement and apologies “to the Holy father, CBCN, Bishop Peter Okpalaeke and the People of God in Ahiara Diocese”. The less added to this by us, the better. It remains an internal misunderstanding amongst brothers. The Church has weathered stronger storms, and this too shall pass.

Let us join in the prayer of the Good Shepherd that all shall be one.


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